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Volunteers remove ruined books from Wells Memorial Library (Photo courtesy of Kate Messner)
Volunteers remove ruined books from Wells Memorial Library (Photo courtesy of Kate Messner)

Irene hit North Country cultural institutions, from libraries to dance studios

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Eight days after Tropical Storm Irene thundered through Upstate New York and Vermont, communities are still taking stock. What's damaged? What's salvageable? What help is needed to get back to normal?

In the Adirondacks, one of the biggest lingering impacts may be the harm done to cultural institutions. Irene dumped mud on important libraries, shredded historic sites, and washed away soccer fields. Brian Mann has been traveling along the Ausable River and has our story.

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A lonely artifact from the Land of Make Believe (Photo:  Brian Mann)

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

I’m walking through what used to be the Land of Make Believe, Arto Monaco’s original theme park, a real landmark culturally in the North Country and it’s just gone.  There’s just nothing left here. 

The only actual remains that I’ve found is part of a little statue of a playing card man, sort of like from Alice In Wonderland, lying here shattered on the ground, covered in mud.  Everything else is just gone.

“All of Arto’s buildings that have survived the flood for years and years and years are just gone.  The entire park has been moved downstream someplace," said Jeffrey Straight, fire chief in Upper Jay. 

A few minutes walk from where he’s standing, Scott Renderer is making trips out of his basement with wheelbarrow loads full of mud. 

Renderer owns a music and performance space in Upper Jay called the Recovery Lounge.

"The river went all the way through the building," he said.  "In the windows in the back there and then it came out here and down the road.  It’s just a lot of labor at this point.  A lot of mud, a lot of broken glass, windows."

All along the Ausable River, I find the same frustrating story.   Some of the coolest, most unique things about this valley were hit hardest.

These are places where people gathered to make music, to dance, to play and share books.

"It was just this thick, shiny layer of mud on everything," said Marie-Anne Azar Ward is president of the Wells Memorial Library in Upper Jay. 

She told NPR that the Ausable River wrecked furniture and computers and gunked up the entire children’s collection. 

"We have a pile in front of the library.  It’s really disturbing to see books piled up in this haphazard fashion."

Azar Ward says the library has insurance, but not nearly enough to cover the rebuilding effort that lies ahead.  "I guess we’re really going to have to sit down and make some hard decisions," she said.

A lot of hard decisions will be made in the days ahead.  These are already tough times for cultural and community projects.  Grant money has dried up.  Donations are fewer and farther between.

A twenty minute drive downstream, Jay town supervisor Randy Douglas stands at the edge of a silt-strewn field.  A back hoe is moving debris. 

After years of building a community park, with ball fields and a picnic area, Douglas saw the entire project flushed away in a handful of hours.

"This project’s got over, I woudl say now with the two soccer fields we’ve been creating, it’s a four million dollar project," Douglas estimated.

He isn’t sure whether the community will rebuild the park.  "Maybe it is time to find a nother location, but it did give many many youths a lot of recreation activities," he said.

Ausable Forks also saw serious damage to its American Legion Hall, says Jeffrey Houston.  "We got about four feet in the basement, some other leakage, one of our big compressors burned up because we lost water, I didn’t know it was water-cooled.  Our furnace, our laundry room, a lot of stock [was lost]."

Communities along the river did dodge a few bullets. 

Sierra Serino runs the Hollywood Theater in Ausable Forks.  Her home was heavily flooded, but the river didn’t do serious damage to her business.  

"The movie theater is not that bad.  We got water all the way up in the basement, but my seats were able to be okay."

The dancer Rebecca Kelly also saw her new studio in Ausable Forks flooded.  There were brightly colored fingerlings swimming in her basement – but the river doesn’t appear to have done structural damage to her building.

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